Sole DXB began in 2010 with a group of people coming together through common interests in footwear and contemporary style. It has since become the key event to share ideas and shape grassroots street culture in the Middle East. The coming together of Dubai and Streetwear sparks an interesting conversation over what that term even means and what the culture could be in a fledging city.
Streetwear now proliferates many styles but commonalities do prevail. The look which flipped work-wear and sports apparel for the streets is now everywhere; having forced its way across all elements of fashion, from Louboutin trainers to sportswear Haute Couture and high-street fashion. Even the average shopper finds a place for more than one pair of trainers in their wardrobe, with style being the residing factor over form and function.
In order to consider streetwear in the Arab World, it’s probably good for us to look back at the pioneers behind the early brands and how they created something new from borrowed influences. As streetwear found itself instilling t-shirt and sweat basics with cultural insignia, people were given a visual language that spoke on their behalf. The input of cultural motifs comes to represent much more than just a badge on a baseball cap. The label and the slogan meant something and provided a language not intended for everyone to decipher. It highlighted that you were worldly in outlook, sophisticated in taste, considered in your choices.
The 1980s Southern California surf brands captured the spirit of a generation. Pioneering a global look that took cues from a range of sources, including the army fatigues and work-wear as seen on the streets of New York. The East Coast required affordable, well-made and warm garments for the long winter. Even a fleeting look at rap music videos from that time will see plenty of Timberland boots and Carhartt jackets; utilitarian no doubt but worn with the right kind of verve spoke volumes. This fusion of California surf and city roughneck would go on to become the uniform not just for SoCal skaters but ravers and club kids as far flung as Manchester’s Hacienda to Tokyo’s Harajuku.
The idea of a singular streetwear brand begins with Stussy. Pioneers of the t-shirt coupled with high-fashion principles of exclusivity, the two defining characteristics for quintessential streetwear brands. Stussy more so than any other can be considered the originator with their Chanel logo flip the most blatant expression of these worlds colliding. Thirty-five years later, the handwritten logo of Shawn Stussy is the mark of a multi-million dollar business.
Shawn Stussy’s friendships around the world would form the International Stussy Tribe (IST). The who’s who of youth culture figureheads that went on to play hugely important roles in music and fashion. Whether DJs like Goldie or Supreme’s James Jebbia, they followed Shawn’s lead giving rise to scenes and local brands each carrying their own unique take on the world around them. The nineties and early 2000s ushered in desirability for limited runs of clothing unlike ever before, but did so to provide the global youth with cultural motifs and brands to set themselves a part.
Amongst the IST alumni is Mr Hiroshi Fujiwara, who, uninspired by Japan, he spread his gaze further afield, travelling the world, absorbing the rhythms of youth movements. Counting Malcolm McLaren amongst his friends, he spent time in London with the Situationists and New York with Hip Hop pioneers, taking these learnings back to Tokyo and introducing the elements to the likes of Nigo of A Bathing Ape and Jun Takahashi of Undercover. Crowned the Godfather of Harajuku, Fujiwara has become a hugely important figure, defining the culture more so than any other as one of the first Hip Hop DJs in Japan. This appropriation and willingness to redefine foreign cultures with a local twist is an important hallmark for streetwear and this inquisitiveness is a quality much needed in Dubai. The attitude to drive and change the world around you by any means is a noble act. It’s hard to think of Tokyo as baron in youth cultural terms, but it forced people such as Fujiwara to dig and find new sources of inspiration. Going on to be the cultural consultant for Nike, Fujiwara would be a driving force behind the limited edition culture of sneaker collaborations we celebrate at Sole.
HTM, the most sought after Nike range is a combination of Hiroshi Fujiwara, Tinker Hatfield and Mark Parker’s initials - three noteworthy figures in the company’s history. They collaborated to devise Nike’s most sophisticated and limited product range. The cultural significance of HTM can be seen through a mix of style and performance, Flyknit being the most notable example. Highlighting Hiroshi’s ability to take global style cues and incorporate them into the design process.
Similar to Fujiwara and co., Hassan Hajjaj encapsulates this very attitude of cultural appropriation. Creativity free from borders, gender constraints and notions of what something should or shouldn’t be. He creates and patches things together, expressing Arabic inventiveness through contemporary art and fashion. These are moments befitting of an international stage.
Hassan Hajjaj is inspiration for Dubai, a city that struggles to express this mix of Arabesque roots in balance with contemporary design. In a time of great accessibility online, we’re in a paradox. Dubai’s limited access to authentic streetwear is strange for a place so synonymous with shopping. But this enables us to mix a very international influence with local symbolism at events such as Sole DXB. These foreign influences, alongside an earnest projection of Arabic creativity, provide cultural significance that shapes the future style and aesthetic of Dubai. By coming together to herald new cultural trends and celebrate local talent, with a nod to internationally recognized movements, Sole DXB is a platform to elevate the conversation and inspire regional endeavors.
It’s this mix of people and places that defined the global outlook of the early Stussy tribe and can provide a similar jump off here. It’s important to celebrate Dubai; Sole DXB is the starting point for a new cultural movement for the city. Creatively we are not marginalized, however sometimes the most interesting elements go under the radar. There is fertile ground to change perception; we are surrounded by amazing stories with the types of cultural relevance that has commonly given street culture its insignia. Whether that’s bootleggers running international brands to Iran, Persian artifacts, natural indigo dies, Bedouin culture of survival of the fittest, these identities are ready to be reclaimed, and there is a swathe of things to rift off.
Dubai revels in its lavishness. Other cities also have this in abundance; Vegas and Miami’s excess have almost kitsch like connotations. There’s something both laughable and also massively seductive about yacht parties and Supercars as everyday runarounds. The sheer audacity of a city in the sand is something that can’t be ignored. However, there is an opportunity to flip all of these things and create a visual language in streetwear that says, yes, “I get it”.
Sole is about this common feeling experienced through art, music, and fashion. Bringing this shared experience together in order to help define what “new” looks like. The convergence of influential opinion formers in Dubai is an exciting prospect in a city hungry for unique experiences. D3, now the regular home for Sole, provides a much needed communal space for the fashion and design scenes. What can be captured at Sole isn’t just decisive for the cultural vanguard in the Gulf; it offers an energy we can all be inspired by.